Following independence from China in the 10th century, Vietnam began a southward expansion that saw the annexation of territories formerly belonging to the Champa civilization (now Central Vietnam) and parts of the Khmer empire (modern southern Vietnam), which resulted in minor regional variances in Vietnam's culture due to exposure to these different groups.
During the French colonial period, Vietnamese culture absorbed various influences from the Europeans, including the spread of Catholicism and the adoption of the Latin alphabet. Prior to this, Vietnamese had used both Chinese characters and a script called Chữ nôm which was based on Chinese but included newly invented characters meant to represent native Vietnamese words.
Some elements generally considered to be characteristic of Vietnamese culture include ancestor veneration, respect for community and family values, handicrafts and manual labour, and devotion to study. Important symbols present in Vietnamese culture include dragons, turtles, lotuses and bamboo.